Police, regional health fight to curtail closing hours for Wellington liquor stores in 'risk areas'
Police and health officials are ramping up efforts to curtail off-licences' opening hours in an attempt to reduce alcohol-related harm in Wellington's "high-risk areas".
It follows "lessons learnt" in being knocked back when trying to enforce a 9pm closure - instead of 11pm - on Cuba Liquor World.
The District Licensing Committee (DLC) ruled in 2015 there was no proof of a link between the shop's opening hours and alcohol-related incidents which led to predominantly young people being admitted to emergency departments at hospitals - a link police and health officials had argued did exist.
In a ruling released late last week, the New Zealand Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (NZARLA) dismissed an appeal by police and Wellington Regional Public Health against the DLC decision.
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However, Stephen Palmer, a Wellington region medical officer of health, said opposing the Cuba Liquor World licence application was the first time police and he had tried to convince the DLC to enforce earlier closing hours through the licensing process.
They had learned from their mistakes, and succeeded in getting opening hours reduced at Liquor King, on Kent Tce, and Liquorland, in Victoria St. The DLC ruled both stores had to close at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Both stores are appealing that ruling.
Palmer said they would also focus their energies on Discount Liquor, in Dixon St, and Capital Liquor, in Manners St, as their licences came up for renewal. Also on their radar were New World Metro, in Willis St, and New World Chaffers Park.
"We had learnt a lot from the Cuba Liquor World hearing, and that flowed through to better cases to be put forward ... each time we do a hearing we learn, and put that into the next one."
In losing the appeal, it had become clear their opposition to the shop being allowed to stay open until 11pm had failed to convince the DLC there was a link between booze stores' opening hours on the one hand, and alcohol-related harm and admissions to Wellington Hospital on the other.
Palmer said he and police were trying, licence by licence, to address the risks created by bottle shops in certain areas. They were concerned at the level of pre-loading going on in the entertainment precinct, even though there was a liquor ban.
"We've learnt a lot more about the very high-risk demographic of 18-19-year-olds who mostly live in the university hostels."
Off-licences contributed to more than three-quarters of alcohol consumed in New Zealand, he said.
Only off-licences in the high-risk area would be targeted. "We haven't opposed off-licences open until 10 or 11pm out in the suburbs. We do look at the risk profile for the area."
Alcohol harm reduction officer Sergeant Damian Rapira-Davies said he would continue to work with councils, and the hospitality industry to help reduce alcohol-related harm.
Police recommendations to the DLC were based on what staff saw all too frequently, which was that most social harm and crime happened when people were drunk, and that activity tended to spike from 9pm onwards on Fridays and Saturday.